Sestina for Evensong – James Knox Whittet

The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
2004 Crabbe Memorial Competition – First Prize
Adjudicator:

In a remote island parish, a priest regularly conducts evensong to an empty church

You sound again the bells for evensong,
disturbing the stillness of Sundays
when cattle bow their heads to drenched grass
and sheep spread themselves to scour the slopes,
ribbed with rock; breezes ghosting surfaces
of hill lochs with restless lights and shades.

Moving clouds from shifting lengths of shades
across stained windows like that evensong
of your youth with the smoking candlelit surfaces
of grained pews, overflowing on Sundays,
with snow shelving, then thawing, on the slopes
of roofs across fields of smothered grass.

No footsteps muddy the shorn grass
around the narrow church porch that shades
fugitive strands of sun that lights the slopes.
No one heeds the summons to evensong
when you pull the weighted ropes on Sundays,
moving your shadow across stoned surfaces.

Oil from past traffic veils the surfaces
of pools on the road, verged with seeded grass;
the air heavy with the sleep of Sundays
when windows are darkened with drawn shades,
shutting out your insistent evensong
peals that echo to observant slopes.

Above the heads of the dead, a yew tree slopes
with winds; flattened gravestones eroded surfaces
let raindrops rest as you conduct evensong
to empty pews and blackbirds search through grass
when reluctant dusk descends and shades
brass candlesticks polished for Sundays.

Do you sense God’s presence on those Sundays
of absence when coloured glass blurs the slopes
above lochs where peated water shades
the depths and the pews’ varnished surfaces
are laid bare? All flesh is grass:
your voice disperses the silence of evensong.

You lock the door each Sunday after evensong;
light gone from slopes above fenced fields of grass;
within, shades touch the altar’s marbled surfaces.

Copyright © James Knox Whittet 2004

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